• Let's Look Back: From the Shadows

    No new comic this week, but how 'bout that season finale, eh?

    Hang on, didn't we have a comic that teased this very situation? What's say we take a look back and see how things align? And can I stop using question marks now?

    When I reviewed the From the Shadows arc, I tried to treat it as a stand-alone story. That was well before multiple episodes and the season finale. So now I'm not going to treat the story by its lonesome. Let's take a look back at the ideas this story presented. Be warned, this will also discuss spoilers from the season 7 finale!

    The true mark of maybe-villainy: disorganization!

    I remember watching Celestial Advice and All Bottled Up at Babscon 2017. Really enjoyable episodes, but it felt strange to witness two stand-alone slice-of-life episodes for the season premier. The series had spoiled me on big-scale adventures before. I wondered why the shift?

    Although he's very intimidating, 
    I do have to compliment his dental care.

    Perhaps this arc is meant to be the season's big-scale romp. It features our heroines going beyond the safety of Ponyville, encountering new obstacles, and dealing with very real threats. More than that, it does what fewer premiers have attempted: giving each of the Mane Six and Spike more time to shine.

    Posting this just one day after Halloween. Timing!

    Ever since Return of Harmony, I've noticed that the stories tend to branch out so that Twilight is focused on one task and her collective friends another. Though individual characters have moments to shine, it usually boils down to "Twilight Sparkle and friends" instead of six independent ponies. The exception to this was The Cutie Map, which spread the focus more though I think Pinkie and Fluttershy claimed the most memorable parts.

    Nice of the ponies to build a massive door in their castle.

    Though this issue often pairs the ponies off, it does change things up so that each character has moments to contribute and insights towards a solution. Because of this we get to enjoy various characters play off one another. Given that the Mane Six didn't have any map missions until season's end, this feels like it fills a missing point. Though again, I think Pinkie's exuberance sets her apart from the others.

    I doubt any Japanese schoolgirl has tried this approach.

    In many ways this is mostly about issue #53 and the story's conclusion. After all, a majority of the tale is spent pursuing Shadow Lock, while the final part features Twilight's assertions. This scene takes on special meaning having seen Campfire Tales, Daring Done?, and A Health of Information. Twilight asserts that history teaches us to learn from others' mistakes and if we do encounter trouble, we can look to the past to guide the way.

    I wonder if there was a pony Pompeii?

    The Pillars of Equestria weren't truly discussed until the season's latter half, and so this three-issue arc set the stage well before their introductions. Campfire Tales was mostly entertainment, though Scootaloo learned something of courage from Flash Magnus. I think Daring Done? and A Health of Information did more to expand on the ideas Twilight put forth. Somnambula did much to encourage Pinkie and Daring Do to move forward. Mage Meadowbrook's knowledge gave Fluttershy a means by which to save Zecora. It's a nice integration.

    "By the way, we solved that hunt for a mystical flower you were on." 
    "Oh, way to steal all my thunder!"

    Less fluid is Shadow Lock's role. For starters, there is his history-wiping spell. This is not a surgical application. We see several times throughout the story that his spells wipe both the books and a reader's memory en masse. It's not just a name or a mention of the darkness. There's collateral damage.

    Amazing he can still remember how to do the spell given his indiscriminate aim.

    Yet now we know that the Pony of Shadow's tale is closely linked to that of the Pillars of Equestria. If Shadow Lock nearly wiped out all memory of this threat, shouldn't the Pillars have faded from memory as well? Even allowing for oral storytelling or first-hand accounts from Celestia and Luna, there isn't a sense that Shadow Lock's efforts had a genuine impact.

    "I'm very important to the story!" 
    "You don't get to be in the finale." 
    "Dang it!"

    More than that, was it the right idea to introduce Shadow Lock if he hasn't any role in the finale? He is a distant relative to the Pony of Shadows. He has a personal stake in this conflict and it makes sense that he would bear responsibility to make up for his mistakes. Or at least pay the school fees for the Crusaders and other foals to repeat a grade. Fair is fair.

    Still one of the best meta jokes I've read.

    There are some big problems with that idea. For starters, with a cast of at least 15 steady characters, another is just going to make this even more crowded. Add to that the concept that not all fans have read the comics. So what do you do?

    This is going to make Thanksgiving dinner sooooo awkward.

    Introducing Shadow Lock and having to summarize his backstory would bring everyone up to speed, but those who read the comic would likely feel scammed for having invested time and money in the comics. Featuring this pony but not addressing his history commits the crime of assuming your audience is hanging on every bit of media put forth. I've said before that such an attitude can be a franchise's weakness.

    I just read them for the articles!
    Wait, sorry. Wrong publication.

    So in the end I think it was a good idea not to force the idea, but that doesn't change the fact that Shadow Lock has been left dangling. His ancestor is now a part of Equestria. The fear that hounded him has been vanquished. Or has it? Let's not forget the darkness' ultimate fate.

    "As one of the few non-redeemed villains in this show,
    I might be back!"

    Just throwing an idea out here: what if there was another multi-part arc that served as a followup? The darkness could still find its way out of limbo once again. As Stygian's descendant, Shadow Lock could be a new vessel. If anything, his magical skill and stronger body might make him an even greater threat. This would put our ponies in a new challenge: saving a hostage from a more powerful threat.

    You can't beat my cloaked wingspan!

    The reason I propose this idea is less about asking for a sequel and more about opportunity. It's something Big Jim Miller and M.A. Larson talked about at the recent Nightmare Nights. Amending Fences came about thanks to a dangling thread from the series' premier. It would be easy to simply dismiss such threads as plot holes or inconsequential, but a creative can take these threads and weave a new tale.

    I remembering how this character would work out design-wise.
    Seeing him in varying tones helped distinguish the parts.

    Looking back, I still think From the Shadows is a fun story that both stands well on its own and ties well into the historical themes in season 7. However, Shadow Lock himself suffers from a lacking impact and would do well to have another opportunity. Maybe we'll see him in future issues or perhaps he's stuck in a different limbo.

    Either way, we'll see what new stories unfold. I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

    Silver Quill on Twitter